Read Tales from the New Republic Online

Authors: Peter Schweighofer

Tags: #Fiction, #SciFi, #Star Wars, #New Republic

Tales from the New Republic

Tales from the New Republic

Edited by Peter Schweighofer

Foreword and Acknowledgments

In recent months, the scope of the
Star Wars
universe has expanded beyond our wildest dreams.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
has given us a detailed view of the
Star Wars
galaxy decades before the adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia. But the era in which those heroes fought and lived remains as popular as ever, and the adventures in this collection chronicle other heroes of that same era—when the Empire still cast an ominous shadow upon the galaxy and the New Republic struggled to maintain order and justice. The exciting stories contained in this anthology feature some of those heroes from the era of the fledgling New Republic; some of the adventures make their debut in this book.

For six months in 1998 I served as the editor of the now-defunct
Official Star Wars Adventure Journal
, a position previously held by Peter Schweighofer, editor of
Star Wars: Tales from the Empire
and co-editor of this volume. During my short tenure at the
Journal
’s helm, I was fortunate enough to review work from several of the most popular
Star Wars
authors. In fact, the very first draft I received my first morning in the office was Timothy Zahn’s “Jade Solitaire,” a new story featuring Mara Jade that introduced characters later seen in
Vision of the Future
.

For this book, our assignment was the relatively simple—but excruciating—task of deciding which stories we would choose from the scores under consideration: some previously published under Peter’s direction and some from my turn as the
Journal
’s editor. Those appearing in this anthology represent the finest
Star Wars
short fiction; they are a diverse group, set in a variety of locales and starring a wide range of characters.

More people than I could list deserve thanks for assistance along the way. Chief among them are the authors—who naturally did all of the hard work and deserve the credit—and Pete, my predecessor. Pete welcomed me aboard the West End staff and not only provided me with a strong example, but also became a good friend. His diligent attention to detail and solid work ethic gave me the steady platform from which an even stronger
Star Wars Adventure Journal
would have been launched. Though those issues never came to be, I thank him for his faith in me and for the opportunity to join him in editing this anthology.

Thanks also go to Pat LoBrutto for leading the way, and our former West End associates for their input, advice, and encouragement. My wife Karrie has supported me in every endeavor and has been a constant source of strength and inspiration. My parents, my brothers Billy and Doug, and the infamous Gotham Highlanders have always been there for me and have supported my pursuits throughout the years.

And thanks finally to all the
Star Wars
fans whose support of the
Journal
and subsequent anthologies has meant a great deal to us both.

—Craig Carey, March 1999

Inspiration and support comes from many sources.

Numerous talented authors, a fine co-editor, and many supportive friends deserve commendations for their work in
Star Wars: Tales from the New Republic
. As an editor, I helped channel others’ inspiration and ideas, honing their storytelling skills so they could share these
Star Wars
tales with you. Craig and I enjoyed working with all the authors; each earned their place within these pages.

When West End Games hired Craig Carey to run the
Official Star Wars Adventure Journal
in January 1998, he brought his professional attitude, boundless enthusiasm, and a positive spirit, all of which I admire. After editing the
Journal for
four years myself, I was pleasantly surprised how well Craig learned all aspects of the job. He provided a firm hand, guiding these stories to their final form. I consider Craig a far better
Journal
editor than I ever was. It has been a pleasure working with him. As circumstances dictated, West End Games never published any of his work. I’m proud to finally see it here.

Many others deserve special thanks for
Tales from the New Republic
. Patrick LoBrutto and Evelyn Cainto at Bantam Spectra provided invaluable guidance and assistance through the logistics of producing this anthology. Timothy Zahn, Michael A. Stackpole, Jean Rabe, John Whitman, and Richard Hawran offered their constant encouragement and friendship. Numerous “dark side” and “light side” friends (and those in between) helped bolster my spirits when things seemed rough. Denise Clarkston’s warmth, kindness, and late-night chats helped put everything in perspective. My family provided firm support and love, as they always have throughout my life, no matter what endeavors I undertook.

Thanks to Lucy Autrey Wilson and Allan Kausch for their official guidance at Lucasfilm. And, of course, George Lucas deserves special thanks for creating movies which inspired us yesterday, excite us today, and will enthrall us in years to come.

—Peter Schweighofer, March 1999

Interlude at Darkknell
Part I
By Timothy Zahn

“Senator Bel Iblis?”

Garm Bel Iblis looked up from his datapad, frowning with the subtle tension of prespeech jitters. The man standing in the doorway was the assistant director at the Treitamma Political Center, charged with the responsibility of smoothing any obstacles that might impede the firm step and stalwart tread of an exalted member of the Imperial Senate.

Or so the gentleman had gravely explained upon Bel Iblis’s arrival this afternoon. Clearly the Anchoron reputation for flowery speech and genteel decorum had found a focal point here at the Treitamma.

Which was going to make the bluntness of his speech tonight all the more shocking. The dark truth about Emperor Palpatine and his secret agenda for his newly established Empire…

He shook his head briefly in annoyance. Assistant Director Graskt was still waiting patiently, and here he was letting his mind drift. It showed just how seriously this speech—and the situation it represented—had taken over his every waking thought. “Yes, AsDir Graskt, what is it?” he asked.

“A gentleman from your staff has just arrived from Coruscant,” Graskt said, stepping forward and holding out a datacard. “He asked me to deliver this to you right away.”

“Thank you,” Bel Iblis said, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling as he reached across the desk and took the datacard. Sena would never send a package to him without making sure the courier had his private comlink frequency. The fact that there had been no calls concerning any such arrivals…

He slid the datacard into his datapad. There was nothing on it but a single line: “Meet me at the northeast exit. Urgent. Aach.”

“Will there be a return message, Senator?” Graskt asked.

“No, that’s all right,” Bel Iblis said, long experience in the political arena enabling him to keep the sudden tension out of his voice and face.
Aach
was the code name of a special messenger from Bail Organa, a messenger the Alderaanian viceroy used only for top-level Rebel Alliance business.

“Would you like to speak with the gentleman?” Graskt persisted. “I asked him to wait at the main entrance.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Bel Iblis said. The last thing he could afford was for the two of them to be seen in public together. Besides, Aach had undoubtedly slipped away by now for their more private meeting. “I’ll have plenty of time to see him after my speech.”

“Then the message does not in fact bespeak a crisis?” Graskt asked.

Bel Iblis felt the skin around his eyes crinkle as his eyes narrowed slightly. For someone who had struck him as having taken a double helping of the traditional Anchoroni politeness, Graskt was suddenly being uncharacteristically nosy.

Unless Aach had overplayed his hand in order to make sure the datacard was delivered. But that didn’t seem likely. Could Graskt be a spy for Palpatine, here to keep an eye on him?

He felt a flash of annoyance. No—that was absurd. The man was probably just trying to be helpful. “To middle-level staffers, all news bulletins mean a crisis must be happening somewhere,” he improvised, giving Graskt an easy smile. “It’s important enough, but hardly a crisis. Certainly not worth delaying my speech for.” He looked at his chrono. “Which reminds me, I’m due on stage in fifteen minutes, and I still have to change.”

“I’ll leave you to your preparations, then,” Graskt said. “Good evening, sir.” He bowed deeply and backed out of the room.

Bel Iblis gave him a fifty-count and then followed.

The Treitamma’s northeast exit was off the group of backstage rooms to the left of the main stage, about as far away from the bustling main entrance as it was possible to get. Bel Iblis eased noiselessly down the stairway, alert for the various staffers hurrying around making final preparations for the evening’s round of speeches, and slipped outside.

A landspeeder was parked in the service alleyway behind the Treitamma, gray and muted in the dim evening light. Standing on the far side of the vehicle, pressed into what little shadow there was trying to watch all directions at once, was Aach.

Bel Iblis crossed the alleyway toward him, trying to suppress a grimace and not entirely succeeding. This cloak-and-blade mentality was going to be the end of them yet. “Not being too obvious, are we?” he suggested tartly as he rounded the front of the landspeeder and stopped, facing the other.

“Your preparation room seemed a bit too public for a meeting,” Aach countered, his voice as calm as his face. “Would you rather I showed up at your hotel room after the speech? That could have proved a bit awkward.”

Bel Iblis felt his lip twitch. Awkward, unfortunately, was hardly the word for it. His wife Arrianya, a daughter of the old Core World families, had an unreserved and totally unwavering faith in Palpatine and his Empire, a faith that had first astonished, then baffled, then finally frustrated him. The clash of their differing political views had cast a chill over their marriage the past few months, and had dropped their two children into the middle of what was all too often a verbal war zone.

The speech he was about to make out there on the Treitamma stage was going to upset Arrianya enough as it was. All he needed was for a shadowy messenger from Bail to show up in the middle of the inevitable argument afterward. “What’s the message?” he growled.

In the dim light he saw Aach’s mouth twitch. “Sorry, Senator. I didn’t mean—”

“I know you didn’t,” Bel Iblis said. “What’s the message?”

Aach looked around the area again. “There’s been a breakthrough,” he said, lowering his voice to something barely above a whisper. “We’ve located Tarkin’s project.”

Bel Iblis felt his throat go suddenly dry. “Where is it?”

“I don’t know,” Aach said. “All I know is that a courier will be in the Continuum Void tapcafe in the city of Xakrea on Darkknell in three days with some inside information about it. Bail wants you to send your most trusted aide to rendezvous with him and pick up his datapack.”

Courier
. Bel Iblis glanced around, a bad taste in his mouth. A three would get you the sabacc pot that this so-called “courier” was in fact the thief who’d stolen the datapack in the first place. A minor military figure, most likely, either a trooper or perhaps a clerk attached to the project.

And
two
would get you the sabacc pot that his actions hadn’t been motivated by anything as selfless as love of the Republic. “And how much am I supposed to pay him?”

Aach hesitated, just noticeably. “Bail basically said to give him whatever he wants. Look, we need this information—”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” Bel Iblis cut him off. “If we can’t get honest patriotism, we’ll settle for honest greed.”

“That’ll change,” Aach promised, a quiet fire simmering in his voice. “As soon as Palpatine’s agenda finally becomes clear, we’ll have the whole Republic flocking to our side.”

“I’d settle for the top five percent of the Imperial Academy,” Bel Iblis said sourly. Now was not the time for brooding about Palpatine’s maddening talent for pulling the cloak over people’s eyes. “Fine. I’ll get one of my people on it as soon as I finish my—”

And with a brilliant flash, the Treitamma Political Center blew up.

Bel Iblis was lying on the ground when he fumbled his way back to consciousness, pressed up against the wall of the building across the alleyway on one side with what was left of the landspeeder looming over him on the other. Behind the landspeeder a ragged section of wall where the Treitamma had been was burning furiously, bathing the whole area with an unreal-looking blaze of yellow light and pouring black smoke into the sky.

“Senator?”

Bel Iblis blinked, shifting his eyes upward. Aach was kneeling over him, a gash in the side of his face streaming blood. “Come on, Senator, we’ve got to get you out of here,” he said urgently, tugging on his arm. “Can you stand?”

“I think so,” Bel Iblis said, gathering his feet beneath him. He looked over at the burning building again as Aach helped him to his feet—

And abruptly the haze blanketing his mind seemed to flash-burn away. “Arrianya!” he gasped. “Aach—my wife and children—”

“They’re gone, Senator,” Aach said, his voice suddenly vicious. “And you’re going to be next if we don’t get you out of here right away.”

“Leave me alone!” Bel Iblis snarled, trying to push Aach’s hand away and staggering as his trembling legs nearly collapsed again beneath him. “I’ve got to get to them. Let me
alone.

“No,” Aach bit back, tightening his grip on Bel Iblis’s arm. “Don’t you see? You’re the only one they were trying to kill in there.
You.

Bel Iblis stared at the blazing building, a jolt of fresh pain and emptiness and anger twisting together and cutting into him. No. No—it couldn’t be. Destroy a whole building—kill dozens or even hundreds of people—just to get at him? It was insane.

“Looks like they used a thermal detonator,” Aach said, half leading, half pulling Bel Iblis down the alleyway away from the wrecked landspeeder. “Shaped to bring down the Treitamma without demolishing the whole neighborhood. Most likely planted somewhere near your preparation room.”

And Arrianya and the children had been in the private refreshment center chatting with the chief director. Only two rooms away…

They had reached the end of the alleyway by now. Around the corner of the demolished building, over by the sides and front, Bel Iblis could see a crowd had already gathered, their features unreadable through the smoke and heat-shimmered air. Their screams and shouts, barely audible over the roar of the flames, were like a stab of pain in his heart.

“Over here,” Aach said, pulling him toward a landspeeder parked at the side of the street, its front end crumpled and blistered by the explosion. “You can take my ship—I’ll get back to Alderaan some other way.” He pulled open the door and guided Bel Iblis into the passenger seat.

Another layer of the mental haze suddenly cleared from Bel Iblis’s mind. “Wait a minute,” he protested, half in and half out of the vehicle. “Arrianya and the children—I can’t just leave them.”

“You have to,” Aach said, his voice bitter but firm. “Didn’t you hear me?
You
were the target, Senator. You still are. We’ve got to get you to safety before they realize they missed and try again.”

He closed the door on Bel Iblis and hurried around to the other side. “But what if they’re alive?” Bel Iblis demanded, fumbling for the door release as Aach dropped into the driver’s seat. “I can’t just leave them.”

“They’re dead, Senator,” Aach said quietly, his face in shadow as he hunched forward and reached up under the control board. “Everyone who was inside is gone, either from the blast itself or from the building’s collapse. Whoever Palpatine sent to do the job was very thorough.”

With a jolt, the landspeeder started up. “Yes,” Bel Iblis murmured, taking one final look at the burning building as Aach spun the vehicle around and headed in the other direction, down the street. “He was indeed.”

“And he’s not going to give up now,” Aach added, pulling hard to the side to get out of the way of a fleet of Extinguisher speeder trucks as they raced past toward the conflagration. A waste of effort, Bel Iblis thought numbly as they passed. There was nothing anyone could do now. “You’re going to have to go underground until Bail and Mon Mothma can backtrack this and identify whoever was responsible.”

“I suppose so,” Bel Iblis said. His left shoulder felt cold, and he looked down to see that the top of his coat there had been torn completely away by some bit of flying debris that the bulk of Aach’s landspeeder hadn’t protected him from. Odd—he wondered why he hadn’t noticed that before.

He was suddenly aware of a watchful silence, and looked over to find Aach eyeing him warily. “Are you all right, Senator?” the other asked. “Did you hear what I said? You have to go away somewhere and hide.”

“Yes, I heard you,” Bel Iblis said, the pain inside him beginning to give way to a black and simmering anger. In that single instant, a moment frozen forever in time, Palpatine had taken away from him everything he held dear. His wife, his children, his career. His life.

Everything, that is, but one. “And I’ll be all right,” he went on, “When Palpatine is dead, and what was once the Republic has been restored.”

“I understand,” Aach murmured. “You’re one of us now, Senator.”

Bel Iblis frowned at him. “What are you talking about? I’ve been part of the Rebel Alliance since it was first formed.”

“But you were with us for other reasons,” Aach said. “Political reasons like Palpatine’s abuse of power, or idealistic reasons like erosion of personal freedom or the antialien biases drifting into the legal system.”

The muscles in his jaw tightened briefly. “Now Palpatine has hurt you. Not someone else, but you. Now it’s personal.”

Bel Iblis took a deep breath. “Maybe it is,” he conceded. “On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what he wants: to trick us into thinking we’re fighting him for purely personal reasons.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong is that that kind of battle is driven by emotion,” Bel Iblis said. “Eventually, the emotion burns away, and then your reason for continuing the fight is gone.”

He fingered the edges of the hole in his coat. “But we’re not going to fall into that trap. He can do anything he wants to me—can take anything away from me that he will. I’ll still fight him because it’s the right thing to do. Period.”

For a few minutes they drove on in silence. On the rear display the burning shell gradually receded behind the other buildings of the city, leaving only an angry black-orange pillar of smoke to mark his family’s funeral pyre. It seemed terribly wrong somehow to be running away like this, as if he were casually and cavalierly brushing aside their lives and dishonoring their memory.

But no. They were dead, and the dishonor of their blood was solely on Palpatine’s hands. All that was left for him now was to do whatever he could to prevent others from dying in the same violent and useless way.

And if the whispered rumors he’d heard about this Death Star project of Tarkin’s were even close to the actual truth… “You said I could take your ship?” he asked Aach.

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